Actually, not freewheelin' at all, a very uninformative title
For the first time in the history of the blog, I am doing all of this from memory and without the help of the diary. So, anything that's inaccurate or chronologically wrong, or even just boring, I blame on that. Got my list of 'key themes' ready, so just have to remember some sort of plausible order.
We pondered stopping off at Sharm-el-Sheikh as we got the bus pretty late, but decided to plough on to Cairo anyway, to arrive at about midnight. Not hugely ideal, it being Cairo and all, but the bus ride was worse than the arrival - hellishly cold as the air-con was blasting away despite the crazy heat of the desert, music yelling out of the speakers as well as out of a load of people's phones, and to top it all off, my ipod ran out of battery half way through and I finished my book so had to sit through it with no distractions. We stopped off at an overpriced little shack for some crisps, and I finally cracked at the bastard manning the nasty toilets who said it was 3 Egyptian pounds to use - now, not only is it supposed to be 1 anyway, but I still don't understand why anybody would want to pay to use some nasty toilet when you have the whole desert spreading out before you. We had a good yelling match in which I said I wasn't paying him anything, then as he took a short wander I took revenge by taking a piss against the wall of his toilet shack. He wasn't pleased, but I was.
Well, the journey continued as normal after that, and ready for some real scamming upon arrival, we got into a perfectly focused state of mind by sleeping. Groggily ready for anything that should come upon us, we went up to one of the taxi drivers who were hounding for business and commanded: "take us to a hostel". He looked a bit bemused, and so we narrowed it down yet further: "near downtown." Well, we collapsed into his car and drove for a while, having agreed on some price which turned out to be quite good, and he dropped us off at a huge old building instructing us to go up to the seventh floor. We went into the foyer and it was great, decrepit old marble floors and stairs, with a genuine old empire-throwback mahogany lift with tiny double doors and a dubious looking winch. We used it with mixed trepidation and delight until an Egyptian warned us that it was quite dangerous, and if an Egyptian says so then bloody hell it must be. We took the stairs once, but after seven flights of exhaustion we concluded that the danger was worth it. Well, the hostel turned out to be pretty good and cheap, the room smelled of something dead but the breakfasts were pretty good, and each time we remembered that we wanted to change rooms it was already about midnight so we never got round to it. There were some seriously mangy cats around though, nasty little kittens with wiry tails and diseased looking fur who were picked on by the equally nasty older ones - no real sympathy there. It did answer the question of why our room smelled, but we never located the culprit, probably for the best.
Well, we were pretty well set up, and we found a great pastry shop next door to supplement breakfast and even usurp it later on - hard boiled eggs get a little tiresome, but cakes never seem to. We'd heard from numerous different sources that Egypt wasn't fun, that the people were just out to make money ruthlessly and cheat you everywhere and so on, but we'd almost attributed this to sensitivity on whoever's part and assumed that as we were now officially intrepid, we'd ride the time. Well, long story short, everyone we'd spoken to was right. On our first venture out we got chatting to an old man - at our own instigation - who invited us back to his place for some tea and his card, for some 'Egyptian hospitality'. Memories of Syrian friendliness mixed with language barrier came flooding back so we took the opportunity and he led us through some streets to some perfume shop. Increasingly suspicious, we took the tea and made to leave but were verbally pushed back into our seats as the owner performed the hardsell on us about some 'international Body Shop's scam. We got the hell away but not before the same old mendaciously 'innocent' old man managed to invite us to his papyrus shop as well. Obviously not actually his, but some commission scheme going on. That was the first of many - sometimes we believed these bastards' lies when they said "I'm not going to sell you anything" (damn right) or "Don't worry, I'm not taking you to a perfume shop" before leading us to the door. In fact, quite literally, we only had about one conversation in our whole time in Cairo that wasn't fueled by trying to make a profit out of us. In the end we just decided not to go anywhere with anyone, which was a bit of a shame; anyone who came up to us we didn't even give a slight benefit of doubt, immediately assuming they were here for some olfactory moneymaking and so either ignored them or tried their own game on them - they didn't like
As a city though, the place was awesome. Obvious colonial relics from both France and England meant that pretty much every street gave reason to stop and stare at a glorious old building, half painted, or covered in grime with shops bursting out underneath it. It was absolutely fascinating but saddening at the same time - the loveliest building we saw, pillars and wings and all, that we could see from the roof of our hostel, was apparently to be demolished to make room for a shopping mall or something similar. Of course, corruption being what it is, no such thing as a listed building and whoever has the money can do what they want. Cairo was a complete maze though, not a day went by without us getting totally lost but recognising every landmark so that it was clear we were only a block away from the hostel and circling for hours on end. The Nile flowed straight through the center and aside from the touts and their glass-bottomed-boat spiel, it was totally beautiful with reeds growing out of the sides, the water opaque and brown but reflecting the sun quite well, with the skyline of the other side and Giza town rising out. It was so hot that we spent most of the time just cruising around in board shorts and flip flops, like totally culturally insensitive hippies.
Saving the best 'til last, of course, we went to the Great Pyramids and preceded it with the Egyptology museum to fuel the knowledge fire. We saw all the classic artifacts, Tutankhamen stole the show of course but the place was so packed with fascinating things that it was impossible to even take everything in. Then of course, the trip to Giza was amazing - the most interesting thing about it was that instead of the pyramids simply rising out of the desert, the city limits are within about 50 yards of the nearest one so standing a little way away you can see the juxtaposition of the ancient triangles in front of sprawling miles of Cairo. I had no idea, those sneaky photographers..
So, having been exhausted by Cairo in just a week, we decided we probably could do with some more sun and sea in Dahab so had an equally nasty bus ride back, leaving at 4pm and arriving at 4am.. Slept for free in a hammock by the beach after watching the sun rise though, so it wasn't totally bad. As things go now, just finishing my advanced diving and then tomorrow morning, we head to Israel! Well, not before they could make a little scene aboard an aid ship headed for Gaza. Typical!